Supreme Court reaffirms N2.5m judgment against Emirates Airlines
The Supreme Court has upheld the decision of the Federal High Court in Lagos that awarded a N2.5 million judgment against Emirates Airlines over the refusal of boarding on a valid flight ticket of a U.S.-based Nigerian student, Promise Mekwunye.
Mekwunye, who was then a student of North Texas University, Denton, Texas USA, had in 2008, dragged the airline to court for refusal of boarding on her two-way flight ticket, and further refusing to fully refund the cost of the ticket of American Airline that she bought to come to Nigeria. Mekunye claimed before Federal High Court that she had bought the airline return ticket for $2,067 on May 2007, but upon presentation of the ticket for issuance of boarding pass in December 2007, she was denied boarding.
She also claimed that the airline offered no reason for its action, which left her stranded for days at the airport until she was able to secure a more expensive flight ticket on a longer route to Lagos. She, therefore, asked the court to order the airline to refund the full cost of her American Airline ticket, and to pay for damages suffered as a result of the ordeal.
While delivering judgment in the suit on November 15, 2010, the Federal High Court held that the refusal of Emirates Airline to carry Mekwunye amounted to a breach of contract of carriage.
The court ordered full refund of ticket without any deduction or charge, and further granted N2.5 million in general damages and N250,000 in legal costs against the airline.But dissatisfied with the court’s decision, Emirate Airlines appealed the judgment before the Court of Appeal Lagos.
The airline contended that the trial Judge erred in law, when he awarded N250,000.00 in legal fees when the plaintiff claimed 1,000,000.00 but led no evidence.The airline also contended that the award of general damages was contrary to the Montreal Convention, which not only limits the damages recoverable but placed obligation to prove willful misconduct or gross negligence against the airline before the airline can be liable for damages.
It further contended that the award of additional N2.5 million damages is double compensation since the trial court had awarded the plaintiff the refund of the amount used in purchasing her ticket.The Court of Appeal upheld the airline’s appeal, upturned on April 11, 2014, and the award of N250,000 and N2.5million earlier awarded to Mekwunye by the lower court.
Mekwunye, thereafter, appealed to Supreme Court. In the lead judgment delivered by Justice Ejembi Eko, the Apex Court overruled unanimously the decision of the Court of Appeal, and upheld the earlier judgment of Federal High Court.The apex court held that the trial court was right in ordering Emirates airline to pay in the circumstances N2.5 million as general damages in addition to ticket refund, as the airline cannot rely on the Montreal Convention for limitation of liability when it was guilty of fundamental breach of the contract as argued by the appellant’s lawyer and father, Dr. Charles Mekwunye. The Court further held amongst other things that the Court of Appeal was wrong to have heard and upturned the decision of the lower court when Emirate Airlines never obtained leave of court to file the appeal as to costs.